Sharp rise in long A&E waits as overall NHS waiting list falls slightly

The number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments to be admitted hit 54,308 in January.

NHS England said A&E and ambulance services experienced their busiest ever January
An operation taking place at a hospital NHS England said A&E and ambulance services experienced their busiest ever January (Rui Vieira/PA)

There has been a sharp rise in people facing long waits in A&E, though the overall NHS waiting list continues to fall, figures show.

An estimated 7.60 million treatments were waiting to be carried out in England at the end of December, relating to 6.37 million patients, down slightly from 7.61 million treatments and 6.39 million patients at the end of November.

But hospitals were clearly under pressure as winter took hold, with the number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments from a decision to admit them to actually being admitted hitting 54,308 in January, up sharply from 44,045 in December.

(PA Graphics) (Press Association Images)

This is the second highest figure on record, just below the record 54,573 in December 2022.

The number of people waiting at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission has also risen, from 148,282 in December to 158,721 last month – again, the second highest figure on record.

NHS England said A&E and ambulance services experienced their busiest ever January.

It said there were 2.23 million A&E attendances, with more than a 10% increase in emergency admissions from A&E, compared to the same month last year.

(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics/Press Association Images)

Junior doctors in England staged the longest strike in NHS history in January, for six full days from January 3 to January 9.

It comes as BBC analysis shows cancer waiting times for 2023 in England were the worst on record.

Only 64.1% of patients started treatment within 62 days of cancer being suspected, meaning nearly 100,000 waited longer than they should.

The waits have worsened every year for the past 11.

Thursday’s waiting times data also revealed some NHS waits for planned treatment are getting worse.

Some 13,164 people in England had been waiting more than 18 months to start routine hospital treatment at the end of December, up from 11,168 at the end of November.

The Government and NHS England set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than 18 months by April 2023, excluding exceptionally complex cases or patients who choose to wait longer.

Elsewhere, 337,450 people in England had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start treatment at the end of December, down from 355,412 at the end of November.

Rishi Sunak admitted earlier this week that the Government has failed on its pledge to cut the overall NHS waiting list.

The Prime Minister said the Government had “not made enough progress” but that industrial action in the health service “has had an impact”.

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said of Thursday’s data that “waiting time standards set by the Government – and expected by the public – are being consistently missed”.

She added: “It has been over eight years since the A&E target of 95% of people being seen within four hours has been met nationally.

“While some progress has been made in reducing the waiting list for routine care, it still stands at 7.6 million – a figure that would have been startling a decade ago.

“In the past few days, the Prime Minister said that one of his key pledges, to improve waiting list performance, has been missed, pointing to strikes as the reason this commitment was not met.

“While industrial action undoubtedly impacts patients and the NHS, in truth long waits for hospital care have been many years in the making.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Cutting waiting lists is one of the Government’s top five priorities and, despite winter pressures and the impact of industrial action, overall NHS waiting lists have decreased for the third month in a row.

“We’re determined to continue improving patient care, having already delivered on our promise to create 5,000 extra permanent hospital beds and 10,000 hospital at home beds, freeing up capacity and cutting waiting times.”

According to NHS England, 2.04 million patients received diagnostic tests or checks in December – up 9% on the previous year.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: “Rishi Sunak has proven time and time again that he cannot be trusted to cut NHS waiting times.

“Patients across the country are waiting desperately for appointments while Conservative MPs continue to fight amongst themselves.

“It is clear that Rishi Sunak’s broken pledge is having a catastrophic impact on our NHS.

“His planned NHS spending cuts must be cancelled now to make sure patients get the care they deserve.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “The last Labour government cut the maximum waiting time from 18 months to 18 weeks.

“After 14 years of Conservative vandalism of the NHS, more patients wait longer than 18 weeks than ever before, and the number of patients waiting 18 months has doubled in the past few months. Things are getting worse and worse.”